Motor Racing: Mansell flexes his muscles for a mighty test: British influence on man and machine dominant as IndyCar season starts. Toni Toomey reports from Surfers Paradise

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The Independent Online
KANGAROO-CROSSING signs on the motorway, mobile phones at McDonald's - this must be Australia. Relaxed from a day of playing with the dolphins at Sea World, the reigning PPG IndyCar world series champion, Nigel Mansell, reflected on the prospects for the new season that gets underway tomorrow on the streets of Surfers Paradise in Queensland. 'I'd like to do it this year without hitting any walls.'

Mansell issued his wish list for 1994. 'If I was only going to win one race this year it would be the Indy 500.' Beyond that 'every single driver to be safe; the series to be competitive; the promoters to get a good return; and the best man to win.'

There is little doubt that the 1994 PPG IndyCar world series will be competitive. Ford-Cosworth and Ilmor, minus the Chevrolet mark, will both return with the latest version of their Indy engines. Lola and Penske will be back with their latest chassis. And once again the Lolas will be powered by both Fords and Ilmors.

Honda will give its Indy engine its debut in the Rahal-Hogan team, who use Lolas. After two years of preliminary design and development, Honda did not release much information about their pre-season test result. 'It's good publicity to downplay everything,' Mansell observed.

'I'm excited about the Honda engine because it improves the competition. They always dominate. They've come into it sparing no energy and no expense. I understand they have made four different engines. If they are on the pace right off the bat, look out, we are in trouble.'

Perhaps Mansell should have been more concerned about the latest British invasion in an event in which every car will have a British chassis - Adrian Reynard's new Indy chassis is the work of their chief designer, Malcolm Oastler. From his workshop in Bicester, Oxfordshire, Reynard's chassis have dominated any formula they have entered. For his IndyCar programme Reynard has taken a fresh approach to research and development with five different teams functioning as factory-works teams, sharing any ideas that yield results. The Reynards will carry Ford- Cosworth as well as Ilmor-D horsepower.

There will also be some stronger teams with plenty of driving talent. Top among them is Michael Andretti returning from a disappointing year in Formula One. What better way to vindicate himself than to go wheel-to-wheel with Mansell.

Andretti's childhood playmate, Al Unser Jnr, who languished with a lacklustre Galles team in 1993, is ready to claim the limelight in his new Penske-Ilmor.

Mansell will also be watching his mirrors in 1994 for the young Robbie Gordon, whose courage and speed are becoming tempered by maturity. Gordon is driving for the expatriate Scotsman, Derek Walker, whose revitalised Walker Motor Sports team includes its own wind tunnel programme for ongoing developments of their Lola- Ford.

Mansell, who enjoyed his rookie year, said: 'I'm much more comfortable this year now that I have one year behind me, just knowing where the airports and hotels are. I know the circuits. I've got some races to draw from. I've got one year of learning the rules and regulations.'

On the aftermath of the Phoenix crash early in 1993, Mansell said: 'When I first came over I think people were waiting for me to fail on the oval. What hurt me more than my injuries at Phoenix was that people said 'I told you so'. But I think I've gained some respect in the series.'

As the PPG IndyCar world series reigning champion, Mansell will carry a red No 1 on the nose of his Lola-Ford, but Mansell will always be Red Five, and to prove it, the team has put a red No 5 among the details on his Newman-Haas car.

PPG INDYCAR SERIES: 10 April: Phoenix, Ariz at the Phoenix International Raceway 1 mile oval; 17 April: Long Beach, Cal, temporary street circuit; 14/15 May: Indianapolis 500 qualifying; 21/22 May: Indy 500 qualifying; 29 May: Indianapolis, Indianapolis 500; 5 June: Milwaukee, Wis, 1 mile oval; 12 June: Detroit, Mich, temporary street circuit; 26 June: Portland, Ore, permanent road course; 10 July: Cleveland, Ohio, temporary street circuit; 17 July: Toronto, temporary street circuit; 31 July: Michigan International Speedway Super Oval; 14 Aug: Mid-Ohio, permanent road course; 21 Aug: Loudon, New Hampshire, 1 mile oval; 4 Sept: Vancouver, BC, temporary street circuit; 11 Sept: Elkhart Lake, Wis, permanent road course; 18 Sept: Nazareth, Pa, 1 mile oval; 9 October: Monterey, Cal, permanent road course.

(Photograph omitted)